ByAna Valens, writer at
Writer and games critic. As seen at the Daily Dot, Waypoint, Kill Screen, Bitch Media, and ZEAL.
Ana Valens

is Ana Valens’ weekly column introducing new players and non-gamers to essential gaming franchises.

Welcome to the world of Thedas. You're just in time, too. There's a new Dragon Age on the way, and fans are already eager to see where the series will go after Dragon Age: Inquisition.

For the uninitiated, Dragon Age is BioWare's fantasy action RPG series. The series has been released across both PC and consoles and it serves as a sort of spiritual successor to the Baldur's Gate and Neverwinter Nights franchises, which were both based on the world of Dungeons & Dragons.

Suffice to say, Dragon Age has a pretty hefty legacy that dates back to the 1990s. And to this day, it's one of the most critically acclaimed. BioWare franchises around for modernizing the original games' iconic gameplay style.

Of course, Dragon Age is a fantasy world with a rich, complicated lore to understand and explore. And it's one that rewards familiarity with the first few games. So if you're interested in exploring the world of Dragon Age, here's our guide to everything you need to know about the main series.

Dragon Age Grew From Humble Origins

'Dragon Age: Origins' [Source: EA]
'Dragon Age: Origins' [Source: EA]

The idea for Dragon Age: Origins first began at BioWare's Edmonton studio. Built as a spiritual successor to BioWare's original Baldur's Gate as well as Neverwinter Nights, 180 developers were brought on to develop the project in secret. Initial development began around 2002, and the game would remain in development for nearly seven years.

Featuring six different origin stories to choose from for the player's character, and introducing a brand new world combining various fantasy tropes, the game was well received on release in 2009 for its immersive story and entertaining tactical gameplay. Players quickly fell in love with the game's fantasy world of Thedas, and a sizable following grew early on.

And for good reason. Most iconic of all, Dragon Age: Origins was known for its enormous world to explore. Over 68,000 dialogue lines were ultimately written into the game, with critics complimenting Origins' immersive story and branching capabilities. Fans were highly encouraged to replay the game, exploring the different origin stories and choosing new narrative decisions throughout the game.

'Dragon Age II' Introduces Some Growing Pains

'Dragon Age II' [Source: EA]
'Dragon Age II' [Source: EA]

A sequel was quickly in order, and Dragon Age II began development in 2010. Eager to take the next Dragon Age in a more cinematic and beginner-friendly direction, the second game had numerous changes to it that ultimately proved controversial for the series.

For one, BioWare changed up the game's dialogue format. Gone was the 1990s-esque numbered dialogue tree; instead, Dragon Age II implemented a dialogue wheel that was similar in style to the Mass Effect series. While this streamlined the game's conversation system, it broke immersion for some players, who preferred to know exactly what their character would say rather than approximations.

Combat was significantly changed as well, with controls simplified and tactics largely newbie-friendly. As a result, many complained that Dragon Age II was largely changed to accommodate a console audience at the expense of PC gamers. There's some merit to that complaint, too.

Fans were further conflicted by the fact that Dragon Age II's story writing took a bit of a hit to consistency, with some quests clearly better written than others. Some critics found the game's small setting to be frustrating when compared to the sprawling map that made Origins so iconic.

Dragon Age II was still received well on release in 2011, and to this day, it's considered a solid sequel to Dragon Age: Origins. But the game is also considered a cornerstone in BioWare's gradual change towards a more casual and console audience, with many having bittersweet feelings about the game.

'Dragon Age: Inquisition' Brings Improvements

'Dragon Age: Inquisition' [Source: EA]
'Dragon Age: Inquisition' [Source: EA]

BioWare knew that a third game could give the studio an opportunity to combine the improved graphics and controls form Dragon Age II with the sophisticated writing and tactical combat that made the original Dragon Age: Origins so memorable. The team quickly got to work, and Dragon Age: Inquisition was officially announced in 2012. Focusing instead on an open-world setting, Inquisition released to massive hype in 2014.

Overall, Inquisition was received much better than Dragon Age II. The game's writing was improved, the dialogue wheel was refined, graphics were enhanced, and the combat system played much more like Origins than Dragon Age II.

There were still complaints against Inquisition, of course. Some felt that the game's side quests played too much like MMO grindfests. Others argued that the story was good, but didn't hit the high watermark that Origins introduced for the series. But most could agree that Dragon Age: Inquisition was an overall upgrade for the series, and that the title boosted confidence in BioWare after a troubling past few years with Dragon Age II.

Where To Start? Go 'Origins' Or 'Inquisition'

'Dragon Age: Origins' [Source: EA]
'Dragon Age: Origins' [Source: EA]

Personal opinions on the Dragon Age series aside, there's some good news for newcomers. All three Dragon Age games are relatively decent. Even Dragon Age II is largely hailed as a solid RPG in its own right, even if it isn't quite as popular as its predecessor and sequel.

Of course, Dragon Age is a series that builds on itself, not entirely unlike Mass Effect. Because the game's setting, world, and story is best understood by experiencing each game in chronological order, we recommend starting all the way with Dragon Age: Origins and then moving on to Dragon Age II and Dragon Age: Inquisition.

However, Inquisition is relatively independent of its predecessors, and it's certainly possible to play the third title without necessarily playing through the first two games. The updated graphics and gameplay make Inquisition a solid contemporary choice for any newcomer that want a quick head start into the world of Dragon Age, too. Albeit, the third game is best enjoyed after playing through at least Origins, as there's significant continuity between the first two games and Inquisition.

'Origins' Might Be The Best Starting Point

'Dragon Age: Inquisition' [Source: EA]
'Dragon Age: Inquisition' [Source: EA]

Ready to enter the world of Dragon Age? Here's where to start:

Dragon Age: Origins

  • Play if: You want to start from the beginning, or you plan on playing the whole series through from Origins to Inquisition.
  • Generally: Start here. It's the best place to begin the series.

Dragon Age II

  • Play if: You've already played through Origins. Dragon Age II is best enjoyed right after the original.

Dragon Age: Inquisition

  • Play if: You've already played through Dragon Age II and are ready to continue the series.
  • Also, play if: You'd like a quick start into Dragon Age by playing the latest title.

Those are our recommendations for Dragon Age. Have any of your own? Share your preferred title in the comments below.


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